By Greg Newbegin
When Peter Molyneux announced the original Fable in the early 2000s, he suggested that it was going to be the best game ever. He had some great ideas, and time has shown that, well.. they just didn't work in practice. He tried with a further two iterations in the Fable series, and while each was enjoyable on their own (in my opinion at least), no title in the series set the world on fire as they were touted to. But really, that's something Peter Molyneux is known for.
Fable: The Journey is the newest addition to the series -- developed once again by Lionhead Studios and Peter Molyneux. However, it doesn't follow in the footsteps of those that came before it (there are apparently more games coming in the series, but The Journey is NOT Fable 4). No, this is a Kinect title and as such, plays out entirely controller-free.
Putting players in the shoes of Gabriel, a young traveller who has always dreamed of the fables and heroes, the game is played out in first person -- with various third-person videos to drive the story (there are some comic-style flashback scenes as well).
Late to the convoy on the day the camp is set to move, Gabriel must drive his horse and carriage in a frantic race to catch up -- it's no great spoiler that this doesn't happen, and Gabriel is set off on a very different path indeed. He soon meets a Seer named Theresa, a character with a backstory related very strongly to previous Fable titles, who is being pursued by an evil entity only referred to initially as the Destroyer. Not long after, Gabriel discovers that he (of course) has the potential to be a hero himself, and is pushed off on an adventure (a journey, if you will) to determine just how much of a hero he can be.
In fact, the story itself is the strongest part of Fable: The Journey -- it's what drove me through the title, and I was even surprised to find there were some narrative hooks throughout that tugged on the heartstrings. In fact, it may well be one of the only saving graces of the title, given its... other misgivings. In addition to the story, I do have to make mention of the graphics -- clearly a lot of love has been put into making some of the environments look amazing. As you travel around the countryside driving your carriage, there are some pretty sites to see, and some lovely lighting and weather effects -- the lighting especially had me nodding in appreciation on more than one occasion (particularly in battle scenes).
However, you may note that I mentioned you would be driving your carriage through the countryside. This was not a narrative liberty on my part. You will ACTUALLY be driving a carriage -- hands out in front of you as if holding on to the reins -- for much of the game. For much of the remainder? You'll be doing potentially the more fun stuff -- shooting fireballs and pushing enemies Jedi-style with your hands. Other sections will have you removing arrows from your horse's hide and healing wounds, or pumping water into a trough -- even pulling an apple from a tree to feed your steed, but these sections are few and far between by comparison.
All of this would be lovely if the Kinect was as accurate as the game requires. Unfortunately, it's not. I tried sitting close to the camera, moving far from the camera, controlling the light, removing objects from the field of view -- everything I could think of, and sometimes it would work great! Mostly though... it would not. My fireballs would harmlessly smash into the dirt. My shield gesture wouldn't shield. My force push would veer off in to the trees. And my chest opening skills? Well, turns out I'm not so great at opening chests, apparently.
But it wasn't all doom and gloom. It didn't fail quite as miserably as we've seen with *ahem* previous Kinect titles. In fact, for the most part, it worked fairly well. I even enjoyed it at times. But the problem was, holding my arms up to shoot fireballs -- even when it worked -- was tiresome. Driving a horse an carriage was somewhat boring (although the developers managed this by including a lot of spoken dialogue to drive the story in these sections). And when it doesn't work? It's possibly the most frustrating experience I've ever had as a gamer.
It's sad, really. The story, and the game itself, really struck a chord with me - I am a fan of the fantastic, and the Fable series has always been one I've enjoyed. It's sad that a potentially great game was let down by the mechanics of the gameplay - as a first or third-person controller-based RPG, I'm almost certain I would have scored this title very differently. But as a Kinect title? I can only recommend it if you have little else to play (and this is certainly not the right time of year for that), or if you find it in a bargain bin. Note though, that I do recommend it in those cases - it's not a terrible game. It's just frustrating at times.